If your body is a temple, a mat can be a temple for your soul. A protected area where bad can’t get in. If this is the only place where you can forgive yourself and quiet the inner critic, you’ve probably won the day. But silencing that critic is not an amenity of yoga. As a spiritual advisor said to me recently, We need to hear the inner critic, but we don’t need to listen to them. If they persist, we can say: Yes, I get it, thank you.
I’ve had quite a few “yes, I get it, thank you”s in yoga recently. It’s a reminder that yoga isn’t always a delightful process, physically or spiritually, and that’s probably why I avoided committing to it for so many years. Your mind brings up things that you didn’t think it would. That you wish it wouldn’t. Not only are you possibly struggling with whatever pose or flow you’re in the midst of, but you’re also forced to look at the thoughts coming up. And I think the urge to perfect a pose, and the urge to look outward at the teacher or the students around you—urges I have all the time—are probably distractions from whatever your mind is trying to show you. This may be a reason why we (or at least big city dwellers) are drawn to dark yoga and cycling studios that feel like temples. In the darkness, you have no choice but to look inward, and to listen to the breaths around the room, the only tangible sign of our connection to one another.
Sometimes nothing comes except the stress that I walked in with. Sometimes lying face up in a position of surrender at the end of class, I’m as anxious as I was when I started. Then, I have to remind myself that showing up was the primary goal, and I did that, so I’m still moving forward, if ploddingly. And even during those less ‘successful’ practices, it still seems like a gift to be able to wander around the emptying studio in such a daze that you put trash in the towel hamper and the towel in the trash, like a child waking up from a nap.
Even the anxiety can be noticed and appreciated. If we think of it as some divine force holding up a mirror for us to see, suddenly not even the painful emotions coursing through us feel as menacing. If we see that force as benevolent, as having our best interest at heart, suddenly we can feel a little more detached from the emotions. And if we can direct the practice of yoga toward that and say: I’m doing this as a devotion to you, benevolent force, instead of as an effort to control, to be ‘good’ at something, or to get a quick fix so we can feel better, then the anxiety starts to fall away. There must be a reason so many poses end with us looking above ourselves.
I’m learning that if yoga is about any of the things happening out there, then there is really no point coming in here. It is not about how we look, or how ‘good’ we hope to be. It’s not a competition or a race. It’s play, not work. It’s a dance, not a workout.
Spring yoga can be about letting go, releasing and starting again. So here’s an hour-long playlist I made to accompany those moments of release, whether you’re practicing on your own, or you’re in need of a good soundtrack for a digital class that doesn’t have music.
—Brooklyn, NY, April 28, 2019
photo by Hope Art